by Leon Rosenshein

Architecture Isn't Everything

Architecture is important. It’s about the user/customer. About adding value for that person. Engineering, on the other hand, is often the art of the possible. How can we build this in a feasible way? What do we need to do now, not directly for the user today, but so that we can do better for the user in the future. Which is another way to say that it’s a question of balance.

Who the best architect of all times is hard to say, but few would argue that Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier are among the best. But both of them have designed buildings with significant engineering problems. Situations where the value at the beginning continues to cause problems today.

Consider Falling Water, not far outside of Pittsburgh. It’s beautiful. It fits the setting and meets all of the sage requirements the owners asked for. And it’s not strong enough. Or at least it wasn’t when it was built. Despite the builder adding extra reinforcement on his own because his calculations said more was needed. Or another of his works, Taliesin. Eminently livable, but construction issues and building material choices have created a situation where maintaining the site is far more difficult and expensive than it needs to be.

Another example is Villa Savoye. One of the initial embodiments of Le Corbusier’s 5 Points system, but it leaks. And it’s noisy. And built poorly. And late. And over budget. Because the engineering didn’t match the architecture.

It’s the same with software. For example, Uber’s microservice architecture.

Uber's tangled web of service connections

At one point there were more microservices than there were engineers. That’s not always a problem, but it’s certainly something to think about. So much so that for the last few years Uber has been working to tame that plate spaghetti service links.

So while it’s critical to have a good architecture and focus on customer value, it’s also critical to not let the pursuit of value in the moment paint you into a corner where it takes a complete reset to move forward. Instead, maybe something like Evolutionary Architecture.